Our denomination, Six-Principle Baptists, sometimes referred to as the Old or General Six-Principle Baptists, traces its origin in America to the ministry of Roger Williams in the 1600's.
In his book, "The Baptist Heritage," H. Leon McBeth wrote about Roger Williams that, "Williams was one of the most important thinkers in early America, with significance in political as well as religious history. ...."
He was a ".... Missionary to the American Indians. Early pilgrims often talked about converting the Indians, but they rarely did anything about it. .... Williams mastered several Indian tongues, using these to good advantage in his trading, ventures, preaching, and political arbitration among them. ...."
Roger Williams believed in ".... Religious liberty for all." He was preaching this by the early 1630's and later built it into the law of his new colony, which eventually became the state of Rhode Island.
He believed in ".... Separation of church and state. To Roger Williams the basic principle was religious liberty, the freedom of the soul before God, but he regarded the separation of civil and spiritual spheres as essential to providing that soul freedom."
From the very first, the settlement that Roger Williams founded at Providence provided for democracy, religious liberty and separation of church and state. The charter of 1663 provided that:
"No person within said colony, at any time hereafter shall be in any wise molested, punished, disquited, or called into question for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of said colony; but that all and any persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences in matters of religious concernment."
This "Liberty of Conscience" is still at the heart of our denomination and the basis of our fellowship with each other. Six-Principle Baptists, as the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:1-3, do our best to "walk worthy of the vocation by which you (we) are called. With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Holding to these Scriptural ideals, we as Six-Principle Baptists can have "diversity in unity and unity in diversity."
We are called "General" because the majority of those associated with our denomination, past and present, adhere to the atonement of Christ as being "general" in nature, or for all people as opposed to being just for the elect, or a few.
We are called Baptists because we adhere to "believer's baptism" as the Biblical directive as opposed to infant baptism.We are called "Six-Principle" from our adherence to all six principles of the doctrine of Christ as given in Hebrews 6:1-2.
It is most specifically from our full adherence to the fourth principle listed in Heb. 6:1-2, which, to a degree, is neglected by other Baptist groups. While all Baptists are agreed on the laying on of hands upon candidates for ordination, Six-Principle Baptists, believe that more than this is indicated in Scripture concerning that fourth principle.
In the Bible, the ordinance of laying on of hands, had a variety of meanings. It may have symbolized a passing of a blessing as with Isaac's bestowing the blessing on Jacob; Jesus' blessing of the little children; or the transfer of healing power (Genesis 27:21ff; Matt. 19:13-15; Mark 5:23). We see in the Scriptures that Christ and the Apostles laid hands on people in blessing. The Apostles laid hands on believers after they were baptized and they received the Holy Spirit for witness and power for ministry. In the New Testament church, the laying on of hands took on special meaning in the transfer of authority and the ordination of deacons in Acts 6:1-6 and in Paul's instruction to Titus to appoint or ordain elders in every town.
Because Six-Principle Baptists hold to the "priesthood of all believers," we view the laying on of hands at baptism as an entrance into that universal priesthood of believers and into the general ministry and witness that all believers are called to perform in the world in which they live. We also believe that God calls some into the additional leadership aspect of ministry as set-apart (ordained) ministers and deacons for the service of equipping and building up the general ministry of all believers. Therefore, not only do Six-Principle Baptists, as other Baptists, lay hands on candidates for leadership responsibilities as ordained deacons and ministers, but we lay hands on the newly baptized as a prerequisite to church membership and ordination into the general ministry of the church. Those coming into our fellowships from other fellowships who have been ordained to the ministry by the laying on of hands, we accept as fulfilling this prerequisite.
In his book "History of the General or Six Principle Baptists in Europe and America" (1827), Richard Knight wrote:
"Laying on of Hands. -- This principle of Christ's doctrine, though anciently practised by all baptist churches, is now so much neglected and laid aside, that it distinguishes the churches under review in this work, from all others, by the appellation of the Six Principle Baptists, they holding this rite in connection with, and of equal authority with baptism and all the other principles of Christ's doctrine, and feel warranted therein, both in the divine precepts and practice of the apostles and primitive churches, which, it evidently appears, were in the general practice of this sacred rite for six hundred years after the ascension of our Lord ...."
Six-Principle Baptists continue to hold to the fullness of this distinguishing principle today.
While most of the Six-Principle Baptists have been Arminian, some Calvinistic Baptist churches were also "Six-Principle," but they did not survive as a separate body. Even the influential Philadelphia Baptist Association (org. 1707) added an article concerning laying-on-of-hands to their 1742 reprint of the 1689 London Baptist Confession.
"We believe that laying on of hands, with prayer, upon baptised believers, as such, is an ordinance of Christ, [Hebrews 5:12; Hebrews 6:1,2; Acts 8:17,18; Acts 19:6] and ought to be submitted unto by all such persons that are admitted to partake of the Lord's Supper, and that the end of this ordinance is not for the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, but for a farther reception of the Holy Spirit of promise,[Ephesians 1:13,14] or for the addition of the graces of the Spirit, and the influences thereof; to confirm, strengthen, and comfort them in Christ Jesus, it being ratified and established by the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit in the primitive times,[ Acts 18:7, 19:6] to abide in the church as meeting together on the first day of the week was, [Acts 2:1] that being the day of worship, or Christian sabbath, under the Gospel, and as preaching the word was, [Acts 10:44] and as baptism was, [Matthew 3:16] and prayer was, [Acts 4:31] and singing psalms, etc. was, [Acts 16:25,26] so this laying on of hands was, [Acts 8 & 19] for as the whole Gospel was confirmed by signs and wonders, and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost in general, [Hebrews 2:3,4] so was every ordinance in like manner confirmed in particular." (Philadelphia Baptist Confession, Article 31)